NASA’s Saturn probe Cassini is sending its last images to Earth before it meets its end today
NASA’s Cassini probe to Saturn is sending its last batch of pictures to Earth before it plunges into the planet’s atmosphere to meet its fate on Friday.science Updated: Sep 15, 2017 13:37 IST
NASA’s Cassini probe to Saturn is sending its last batch of pictures to Earth before it plunges into the planet’s atmosphere to meet its fate on Friday.
The spacecraft, which was launched in 1997, is ending its journey after orbiting Saturn and its moons for two decades. Cassini has nearly run out of propellant and scientists decided to lead it to its meteoric end.
“By safely disposing of the spacecraft in Saturn’s atmosphere, we avoid any possibility Cassini could impact one of Saturn’s moons somewhere down the road, keeping them pristine for future exploration,” said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist with NASA, said on Wednesday that these images are “the final picture postcards of the Saturn system”, the Business Insider reported.
NASA began downloading Cassini’s last pictures, which have been uploaded on the space agency’s ‘raw images’ gallery, on Thursday. The galley has nearly 4 lakh images so far.
While orbiting Saturn nearly 300 times, Cassini made major discoveries, such as the liquid methane seas of the planet’s giant moon Titan and the sprawling subsurface ocean of Enceladus, a small Saturn moon.
“Cassini-Huygens is an extraordinary mission of discovery that has revolutionized our understanding of the outer solar system,” said Alexander Hayes, assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell University.
The grand finale
Cassini’s final manoeuvres begin at 0714 GMT (around 1230 IST) on Friday, although the signal will only reach NASA 86 minutes later.
At 1031 GMT (around 4pm, IST), the spacecraft is due to enter Saturn’s atmosphere with its antennas pointed toward Earth and its motors running full blast.
Just a minute later, at some 1,510 kilometers above Saturn’s clouds, the probe’s communications will stop before Cassini begins to disintegrate moments later, NASA predicts.
“The Grand Finale represents the culmination of a seven-year plan to use the spacecraft’s remaining resources in the most scientifically productive way possible,” said Maize.
(With inputs from agencies)